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Driving Value From Every Online Customer Interaction:

The Power Of Intent-Driven Personalization

By Tina Miteko, InQuira


As more people become accustomed to using the Internet, they demand that companies provide increasingly capable Web self-service options. Once upon a time, navigation was the primary method for uncovering information. Today, search has become just as critical a component to an effective online sales, marketing and customer support strategy. New ways of managing the dialog between the company and the customer have surfaced. Visitors are not just looking for information. They are looking for the kind of online experience they are not receiving elsewhere.

Companies have traditionally modeled their sites around most frequent customers or target markets. No one Web site design, however, has been capable of meeting the needs of every visitor or providing a one-to-one personalized experience focused on each customer's unique and immediate requests.

The experience customers have with online self-service is often frustrating. Customers are searching for information but are frequently left empty-handed and unsatisfied by the deluge of irrelevant content with which they are presented. It is only a matter of time before these unsatisfied customers will abandon a company's site for a competitor's site ' one that can better satisfy their pressing needs. The sales and marketing implications are significant. High abandonment rates, which are essentially avoidable lost sales opportunities, should serve as a warning signal to companies.

On the customer service side, a report by market research firm ServiceXRG shows that 60 percent of customers used self-service before requesting live assistance to meet their support needs. In addition, the same study indicates that of the 60 percent who used self-service, only 23 percent reported they found what they were looking for and did not require additional support. This means that for every 60 site visitors who choose to use the online self-service channel, only 14 are able to find content that satisfies their needs, leaving 46 unsatisfied customers.

Web self-service is the most cost-effective medium for organizations when compared to live phone assistance and e-mail. ServiceXRG research indicates that first contact closure cost is $49.10 via phone and $36.70 via e-mail, but only $11.60 via Web self-service. The cost ramifications of an effective Web self-service channel to a business are self-evident.

The reality is that today, most organizations fail to meet customer expectations and address customer needs in real-time. This failure translates to higher site abandonment rates, lower sales conversions, costly service resolution and a decrease in overall customer satisfaction and loyalty. The key to improving online customer interactions involves understanding customer intent in real-time and delivering the right experience that meets each customer need.

Unlocking Customer Intent
Companies need to pay closer attention to optimizing the interaction experience with their customers. The foundation for improving the customer interaction experience lays in the company's ability to understand in real-time the customer's wants and needs and to deliver in real-time a dynamic experience that meets or exceeds those needs. Demystifying customer interactions can help a company accelerate the time to conversion for sales, or resolution for customer service.

Customers articulate their needs in various ways. Although people express themselves differently, in many cases, the underlying intent of their questions is similar. Questions that have the same intent maybe asked using different words and phrases. For example, 'Change my e-mail address,' 'Modify my personal profile' or 'Mailing address update' are three different ways of asking a question that shares the same intent which, in this case, is about updating personal account information.

A recent study we conducted analyzed the search logs of several telecommunications Web sites. The study showed that within the telecommunications industry, on a random sample of 1,000 searches pulled from company search logs, the same searches were rarely repeated. This proves that people express themselves in a unique manner. It also uncovered that those 1,000 queries involved over 4,000 keywords. Any attempt to analyze these questions on a keyword-by-keyword basis would be daunting and unmanageable. However, when phrases and questions were analyzed based on their semantic meaning using natural language technology, the questions were grouped into concepts or intents. The study concluded that thousands of dissimilar and uniquely articulated questions could now be grouped into intent-categories. Some examples of intent-categories include service plan research, balance inquiry, phone equipment support, payment options, account sign-in and help. Of the random set of 1,000 keywords, the research revealed that in the telecommunications industry, 83 intent categories were able to address between 72 to 74 percent of user inquiries.

This revelation can help customer service organizations offer real-time customer experiences tailored around each customer's unique needs by managing the entire customer interaction process on an intent-by-intent basis, instead of using ineffective and unreliable keyword analysis. This intent-driven approach provides companies with the ability to drive revenue to a higher level by offering personalized cross-selling, upselling and other promotional opportunities. Through the real-time understanding of customer intent, companies can shorten the time to engage and transact with their customers, leading to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty levels. By meeting each customer's needs in real time, sales conversion rates can increase significantly. Similarly, support needs can be fulfilled faster, deflecting calls away from live assistance channels and reducing call center costs.

Unlocking customer intent and monitoring of the customer interaction experience can provide companies with insight into business and consumer trends. Through this insight, companies can proactively monitor the quality of content on their sites, identify content gaps and focus resources on adding or updating content that will enhance the user experience. For example, Apple's iPod product can now be integrated with many cars. As a result, an automobile manufacturer might suddenly see a surge in its Web site's search logs for a new intent around 'iPod car integration.' A banking site might see increased interest in topics related to the recently introduced 'ROTH-401(k)' retirement plan. If the companies do not have content assets that satisfy a new type of customer inquiries, they can quickly produce new knowledge assets to offer to their customers. Similarly, if knowledge assets exist for a particular intent but the quality of those assets is poor, companies can update the content to satisfy customer needs. This type of business intelligence could signal potential sales and marketing opportunities, competitive insight and possible trends in consumer behavior, and set the companies in motion to address and satisfy top customer needs.

Many companies have been unsuccessful in delivering superior online customer interactions. The key to improving customer interactions using real-time data is to first understand the customer needs by unlocking the intent behind their inquiries and then to meet the specific needs of those customers by designing a personalized experience around those needs. Through the power of intent-driven personalization, companies can accelerate the time-to-value, enjoy higher conversion rates and revenue, and resolve customer support issues in a cost-effective manner. CIS

Tina Miteko is Marketing Manager of InQuira, Inc. (www.inquira.com), (news - alerts) which develops customer interaction applications for Web sites and contact centers. Miteko has extensive business-to-business marketing experience in both software and hardware industries. She currently manages InQuira's marketing strategy and programs.

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